Hurricane Ivan's sustained winds strengthened to 160 miles (257 kilometers) per hour as it battered the Netherlands Antilles, off the coast of Venezuela, after devastating the island of Grenada.
Ivan caused at least 15 deaths across the southern Caribbean, damaging 90 percent of the homes on Grenada and destroying a 17th century stone prison from which some of the island's criminals escaped, the Associated Press reported today.
Ivan is a "rare" and "extremely dangerous" Category 5, the strongest storm as measured by the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said on its Web site in an advisory at 2 a.m. New York time. The hurricane is expected to strike Jamaica tomorrow, before slamming into Cuba. A five-day forecast shows Ivan may hit Florida's west coast Monday, reports Bloomberg.
According to Newsobserver before slamming Grenada on Tuesday evening with winds of more than 120 mph, Ivan pummeled Barbados and St. Vincent, damaging hundreds of homes and cutting utilities. Thousands of people there remained without electricity and water Wednesday.
In Tobago, officials reported a 32-year-old pregnant woman died Tuesday when a 40-foot palm tree fell into her home, pinning her to her bed.
The storm strengthened even as it hit Grenada, becoming a Category 4, and became even stronger Wednesday, packing sustained winds of 145 mph with higher gusts as it headed across the Caribbean Sea and passed north of the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
In Curacao, the government evacuated 300 residents.
High winds and heavy rains from Ivan flooded parts of Venezuela's north coast, but no injuries or major damage was reported. Helicopter charter companies were busy Wednesday ferrying evacuated workers back to offshore oil drilling platforms there.
90% of homes on the island, which has a population of 100,000, were damaged, and an unknown number of convicts set free after a 17th-century stone prison was destroyed.
A UN spokesman said virtually every major building in St George's, the capital, had suffered structural damage.
The prime minister, Keith Mitchell, whose own home was flattened, was forced to relocate his office to a Royal Navy vessel. "We are terribly devastated ... It is beyond imagination," he told his people from aboard the ship.
Hurricane Ivan had already struck Venezuela, Tobago, Barbados and St Vincent, damaging hundreds of homes and claiming three lives. A 32-year-old pregnant woman died in Tobago when a 12-metre palm tree fell into her home and pinned her to her bed. The hurricane is now on course for Jamaica, Cuba and the southern US.
Grenada's police commissioner, Roy Bedaau, told Voice of Barbados radio 12 people had died but provided no details.
Mr Mitchell said it would be a "surprise" if the death toll did not rise. He also confirmed that the prison escapees included some of the 17 people who were jailed for life for killings carried out during the 1983 Marxist coup, which sparked a US invasion, informs Guardian.